Cork city guide: the ultimate weekend | Travel
Whatever you do, don’t call it Ireland’s second city – or order a Guinness. Corkonians want you to know that their home’s cultural and culinary credentials are as strong as Ireland’s official capital, Dublin. As for ordering a pint of the black stuff, make it a Murphy’s, the locally produced hard food.
Many visitors treat Cork as a simple starting point for Irish road trips, flying in to head along the Wild Atlantic Way or visit remote castle ruins. However, it is worth lingering in this famous university town for a weekend. Compact and portable, you can delve into its rebel past at Elizabeth Fort and survey one of the world’s largest natural harbors before enjoying Irish folk music and the craic in a cozy pub.
What should be done
▶ Girls’ schools set up by local woman Nano Nagle in the 18th century had to operate in secret, hidden behind innocuous storefronts, due to penal laws prohibiting Catholic education. Her efforts and legacy are explored in this sprawling cultural venue, Nano Nagle Place, which won the Council of Europe Museum Award 2022. Its peaceful grounds also contain one of Cork’s finest cafes, the Good Day Deli (£6.50; nanonagleplace.ie).
▶ Did you know that butter has been produced in Ireland since at least 1000 BC? The diminutive (sorry) Butter Museum is where you can delve into the city’s dairy heritage. His collection of antique brushes and molds is housed in what was once the world’s largest butter market. Visit at midday on Saturdays for a live butter-making demonstration (£4.35; thebuttermuseum.com).
Saint Fin Barre Cathedral
▶ Dedicated to Cork’s patron saint, the gray stone structure of St Fin Barre’s Cathedral cuts an imposing figure on the city skyline and the interior is even more magnificent. From the stained-glass windows to the mosaic floors, it’s all the Gothic Revival vision of William Burges, an English architect who moved in pre-Raphaelite circles. Look out for a 24lb cannon hanging from the ceiling, fired from the nearby Elizabeth Fort during the Siege of Cork in 1690 (£5.25; corkcathedral.webs.com).
▶ Cork city harbor was hailed as “the best in the three kingdoms” when it opened in 1824, not that this would have offered the prisoners much comfort. Today you can wander through the corridors and cells of the castle structure, listening to stories of famous prisoners and escape attempts. Grim but fascinating (from £8.70; corkcitygaol.com).
▶ Not only do you get a panoramic view from the 120-foot steeple of St. Anne, but it’s also one of the few churches in the world where visitors are allowed to ring the bells for themselves. Follow the numbered sequences to get the number of people like Frère Jacques before climbing the 132 stone steps to survey the city (£4.35; shandonbells.ie).
The cutest neighborhood
Don’t let the Victorian Quarter name fool you: the architecture may be 19th century, but its attitude is by no means stuffy or dated. Located on the north bank of the River Lee, cultural venues (Everyman theatre, City Limits Comedy Club), cool wine bars (try Nell’s) and live Irish music bars make this Cork’s liveliest quarter. Come the weekend, vintage lovers make a beeline to VQ (as the region is known locally) for the Mother Jones Flea Market (victorianquarter.ie).
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Where to eat and drink
With the English market (more of which later) on its doorstep, this long-time favorite changes its menu daily to sample local, seasonal produce. Seafood from K O’Connell fishmongers takes center stage in dishes such as battered mackerel with Longueville House cider or homemade fish chowder. Be sure to leave room for the all-Irish cheese board (mains from £10; nash19.com).
Orso Kitchen & Bar
In this cozy, candlelit spot, Mediterranean, Lebanese and Moroccan flavors pack a real punch. While the entree may include a whole grain roasted in vine leaves, the menu’s “snacks and sides,” including eggplant fritters with garlic aioli and za’atar bread, make a delicious mezze for those who want to share (mains from £14; orso. ie).
A drink and coffee are something of a Kpa ritual and one of the best spots to enjoy the classic combination is this shabby bohemian cafe. Swirl through one of the classic balls that line the shelves while sipping a perfect flat white (desserts from £2; 123 Barrack St).
Upstairs at Coay Co-op
Upstairs at Coay Co-op
Inside a bright blue cottage on the south bank of the River Lee and going strong since 1982, this vegetarian and fine-dining restaurant serves wonderful dishes from around the globe, from enchiladas to lasagna, tempura to tagine (main chain from £12; quaycoop.com).
Elbow Lane Brew & Smokehouse
Craft beers, brewed in-house, paired with wood-fired foods are a match made in heaven. In addition to the slow-smoked baby back ribs, brisket roll and steaks, king scallops also get the delicious smoking treatment. Those curious about herbs and naturally strong can opt for a flavor tray (retail from £18.50; elbowlane. ie).
Where to stay
This Edwardian tobacco warehouse-turned-hotel offers 58 spacious rooms and apartments in the heart of Cork’s Victorian quarter. Period features including wooden beams have been retained to give the property character, and guests get a 15 per cent discount in the restaurant (doubles per room only from £96; hotelisaacscork.com).
River Lee Hotel
Aptly named for its riverside location, these sleek modern digs feature floor-to-ceiling windows and luxurious touches, such as heated bathroom floors. For those who want to stay active when travelling, there’s a pool and well-equipped gym (doubles room only from £170; doylecollection.com).
A Georgian redbrick pile reached by a winding leafy drive, Hayfield Manor has the feel of a country house, yet is easily walkable from the town centre. Log fires crackle in the drawing rooms during winter, while the walled garden provides an urban oasis on warmer days. As for the bedrooms, these are undoubtedly the most luxurious in the city. Don’t miss a pampering session at the Beautique Spa (room only doubles from £239; hayfieldmanor.ie).
If you only do one thing…
Fill your stomach at the English market, which has been trading since 1788. From fresh soda bread to traditional spiced meats, these hallowed food halls prove why Co Cork is called the produce capital of Ireland (corkcity.ie).
Estella Shardlow was a guest of Failte Ireland (ireland.com) and Hayfield Manor
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